Richard Rickford, Research Assistant, Missing People

Unmissable: The link between debt, mental health problems and missing people

27 February 2019

Sarah’s story

Sarah* was in her mid-twenties when her boyfriend threatened to kick her out of their home. She was frightened and struggling with depression. She felt there was no other option but to leave and there was a significant risk that she would become homeless. Sarah had very little money and was struggling to cope with managing her finances. She called the charity Missing People who gave her a supportive space to talk. With its support, she agreed the first step was to contact the council’s housing offices to discuss her options. She knew the charity would be there to hear how this went, offer emotional support and help her decide the next part of her strategy.

Financial difficulty, mental illness and missing people - the figures

Research clearly shows the link between financial problems, mental ill health and people going missing. National Crime Agency statistics suggest that up to 1,500 people go missing each year because of financial difficulties. Other research puts the figure at nearer 2,000. This group of missing people are more likely to worry about returning home which can mean they spend longer periods of time in dangerous environments, including sleeping rough.

The number of people who go missing with mental health issues is larger still. It is estimated that up to 80% of the 180,000 people who are reported missing each year will be experiencing a mental health issue. Tragically one in twenty people leave with the intention of taking their own life. 

A vicious cycle

Debt and mental ill health can trigger each other off in all sorts of ways. We know that people who have mental health issues often find it harder to manage money and budgeting. In addition, the mental health of those who are in debt can deteriorate if they are receiving letters or being harassed by individuals demanding money that they are unable to pay (which is why we support Money and Mental Health’s #DebtThreats campaign). If payments go unpaid the amount that they owe can balloon out of all proportion.

The more unwell people become, the harder it can become to manage financial issues. People who are experiencing mental health and debt issues can experience increasing anxiety and may reach a point of crisis. In those circumstances, people sometimes think their only option is to go missing. Some people may even be forced to leave by partners or family members. Sadly going missing will often just further add to the problems that a person is facing.

What can act as a catalyst for the above is the stigma that is attached both to debt and mental ill health. People can feel deeply embarrassed about discussing their financial and mental health issues which can lead to isolation and can prevent people from seeking support from family and friends. The charity Missing People understands this and the fact that, for some people, it is easier to talk things through with a stranger who is good at listening and understands the issues.

How we can help

Missing People is a lifeline for anyone who is thinking about running away, for people who are already away from home, and for those who return. Support is also available to families who are missing a loved one. This emotional and practical help is provided via a free, 24-hour confidential helpline, by email or by text.

The charity’s main concern is with making sure people are safe and well. We are never judgemental and we don’t tell people what to do, we just give everyone the chance to talk through their options and to start thinking about their next steps. We can even help people into other services which can provide further practical support.

If you are considering going missing, are already away from home, or if you have been affected by someone in your life going missing, you can find out more about how we can help at For support, or to start talking about your options, you can call our expert team on 116 000 for free at any time of the day or night.

If you are a professional who works with people who might be at risk of going missing please see our website for more information.


* This name has been changed to protect the person’s anonymity.